Derek Winnert

Gosford Park **** (2001, Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Jeremy Northam, Helen Mirren) – Classic Movie Review 299


Julian Fellowes won an Oscar for the witty Best Original Screenplay for this civilised 2001 entertainment, based on an idea by its producers, the director Robert Altman and actor Bob Balaban. It plays like a mix of Upstairs Downstairs, Oscar Wilde and Agatha Christie, and now seems like a dress rehearsal for Downton Abbey.


Aristocrats and servants gather for a weekend at an English country home in 1932, but a murder prompts an outpouring of guilty secrets. The story centres on the McCordle family, particularly the patriarch Sir William (Michael Gambon) and Sylvia (Kristin Scott Thomas). Kelly Macdonald is also centre stage as Mary, the maid of the Countess Constance of Trentham (Maggie Smith). The incomparable Jeremy Northam plays the gay actor-composer Ivor Novello, and sings his song Nuts in May.


Director Robert Altman’s delicious, multiple story lined, all-star period murder mystery is a splendid showcase for lovely actors like Helen Mirren, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Richard E Grant, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Geraldine Somerville, Tom Hollander, Natasha Wightman, James Wilby, Claudie Blakley, Laurence Fox, Trent Ford and Eileen Atkins.


Yes, that is quite a dream cast and the adorable English luvvies are sure out in force for this one, giving of their best as always, with Smith, Scott Thomas and Northam scintillating. Although token Americans Ryan Phillippe and Bob Balaban do not disgrace themselves by any means – in fact they are quite excellent too. However, it is sad to report that Stephen Fry (replacing Kenneth Branagh) overplays his hand something chronic, though, as Inspector Thompson, the police detective on the case.


Disappointingly, Fellowes’s Oscar proved the popular film’s only win at the Academy awards despite six other nominations, including best picture, director and both Smith and Mirren as best supporting actresses. It won the Bafta for Best British Film and for Best Costume Design (Jenny Beavan).

Bob Balaban plays a fictional character named Morris Weissman who produces the Charlie Chan films for the Fox studio and says he is in England to do research for a film called Charlie Chan in London and has come to Gosford Park to find out about British customs. There really is a Charlie Chan in London (1934), a mystery set in an English manor house, and actually featuring Alan Mowbray and Ray Milland, but in fact produced by John Stone.

Ryan Phillippe was cast at the last minute, replacing Jude Law as Henry Denton.

Altman was unable to fund this movie, even with his major stars not being paid, but he said he won the lottery when the British National Lottery backed it.

Altman said he included several F-words to get an R rating because he did not want children to see the film.

The ensemble cast includes: Maggie Smith, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Ryan Phillippe, Stephen Fry, Clive Owen, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, Derek Jacobi, Richard E Grant, Camilla Rutherford, Charles Dance, Geraldine Somerville, Tom Hollander, Natasha Wightman, Bob Balaban, James Wilby, Claudie Blakley, Laurence Fox, Trent Ford, Eileen Atkins, Jeremy Swift, Sophie Thompson, Meg Wynn Owen, Adrian Scarborough, Frances Low, Joanna Maude, Teresa Churcher, Sarah Flind, Finty Williams, Emma Buckley, Frank Thornton and John Atterbury.

© Derek Winnert 2013 Classic Movie Review 299

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